The Senate confirmation process went spectacularly wrong for one political appointee last week, but it's been smooth as silk for a trio of former north central Idaho lawmakers.
Liz Chavez, Leland "Lee" Heinrich and Ken Roberts all received gubernatorial appointments this past summer.
Chavez, who represented Lewiston and Nez Perce County in the Idaho House from 2007 to 2010, was appointed to the Judicial Council in August. The council nominates people to fill court vacancies and investigates complaints against judges.
Heinrich served in the state Senate from 2007 to 2010, representing Clearwater, Lewis, Idaho and Valley counties. He was appointed to the Board of Tax Appeals in August; it handles appeals of various state and local tax liability decisions.
Roberts also represented Lewis, Clearwater, Idaho and Valley counties. He resigned in July after six terms in the House to accept an appointment to the Idaho State Tax Commission, which handles state tax collections and administers the state tax code.
Heinrich and Roberts were confirmed after uneventful hearings earlier this session; Chavez goes before the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee Monday.
"I feel like I'm fairly well prepared," she said. "As long as you can get up in the morning and there are needs you can help meet, you ought to."
Chavez was also appointed last summer to the Board of Medicine's pre-litigation panel, which hears medical malpractice complaints to decide if they have merit. That position doesn't require Senate confirmation.
Roberts was confirmed last week, shortly after the Senate voted 19-16 to block Joan Hurlock's appointment to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. She was the first gubernatorial appointee to be rejected by the Senate since 1988, according to The Associated Press.
"It was a little nerve-wracking," Roberts said. "I was the first one up after Joan. I thought (the Senate) might just be getting tuned up and start rejecting more appointees."
Before he was appointed to the tax commission, Roberts said he underwent a substantial background check. He also had an in-depth interview with the governor and his staff.
"It was very thorough," Roberts said. "They asked questions about tax structure and operations and what I envisioned. They also looked at my thought process on legislation."
The Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee interviewed him as well, before recommending that he be confirmed.
Gov. Butch Otter typically appoints almost 1,000 people to more than 220 boards and commissions each year. Only a fraction of those require Senate confirmation, but spokesman Jon Hanian said they all receive some degree of vetting.
Political contributions play no part in the selection process, he said.
That became an issue for Idaho editorial writers this past week, after it was discovered Hurlock donated $400 to Rex Rammell in 2009 and 2010, when he was running against Otter for governor. Rammell also had several notable run-ins with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Some board and commission slots are reserved for Democrats or Republicans, but beyond that Hanian said he's never seen Otter pick someone based on political contributions or reject them for that reason.
"He wants the best and most experienced candidate, regardless of political leanings, man or woman, Protestant, Catholic or other religion," Hanian said. "Whatever the demographic, he wants to pick the best person - and (with Hurlock) he believed he did that."
Hurlock's campaign contribution wasn't the first or even biggest issue to slip past the vetting process. For example, Chavez's predecessor on the Judicial Council resigned during her confirmation process last year after it came to light she had a felony conviction for making false statements.
For some appointments - such as the Fish and Game Commission - candidates are vetted by a selection committee. The Judicial Council essentially plays that role for vacancies on the Idaho Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and district courts.
"It's such a complicated process," Chavez said. "There's a list of criteria, and the nominees fill out a lot of information about their experience and qualifications. We also gather information from the people they've worked with. The final step is an interview with the council. I think it's a very harrowing experience for the candidates."
Felony convictions might be an appropriate disqualifier, but Heinrich thought political contributions crossed the line.
"I sincerely think the governor just looks for the most qualified people," he said. The fact that he picked Hurlock despite her political contributions "gave me even more confidence that he's trying to pick the best person."